“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” – Luke 6:46-49
I have been looking forward to this stretch of the river for some time. As a river scientist and someone who loves to be on and around dynamic rivers it holds special meaning for me. Jesus is providing a word picture for those who “hear him” so let’s listen in, “As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.”
I was once involved in a law suit involving damage to a house during a flood. I was working for the state of Oregon at the time as a reclamationist. Most people have never heard of a reclamationist but basically I was a “rock cop” making sure that miners of sand, gravel, rock, and metals followed the mining and reclamation laws for Oregon. As it turns out the best place, at least in Oregon, to find sand and gravel is near or in rivers. Since rivers are dynamic places subject to flooding this can create problems at times when the mining changes the way the river would naturally flow or flood.
So the entire lawsuit was about whether a mining operation had changed the way the river flooded and caused damage to a property downstream from the mining operation. I was on the witness stand for three hours straight! The lawyer for the person suing the state and the mining operator was trying to get me to say that it was the state’s fault that the river flooding damaged the house. Finally the judge came to my rescue and told the lawyer to stop badgering this young man and get on with it. Part of me felt sorry for this homeowner whose home was damaged, but the geologist and river scientist in me realized that the location of the home was the problem not the river, flooding, or even the mining operation. I am not sure how this law suit ended up but it taught me important lessons about lawyers, lawsuits and locating homes on floodplains.
But I digress…back to the passage at hand. It is important to note that one can “hear” Jesus’ words but not put them into practice which results in the second part of the word picture “But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” Let’s take each one of these parts of the word picture on and see what hidden wells may be there.
The first home builder builds his home with a firm foundation after digging all the way to the “rock”. Geologists are often consulted about the composition and competency of the rocks when building a home or structure. So why is it better from a geologic perspective to build on a rock foundation? When it comes to rivers it means that you are building on something that is immovable rather than the movable bed that most rivers are built upon. The biggest flood in the world may erode the bedrock in a river but it rarely if ever moves it. This is not true for the sand, gravel, and rocks that are in most rivers. They are supposed to move when a river floods, it is part of the elegant and dynamic equilibrium that a river establishes to dissipate energy during a flood. It is this movement that makes most river rocks look rounded and smooth and an important part of determining the shape and form of a river.
God is certainly like this immovable bedrock and that is probably why Jesus chose this for his word picture. The interesting thing about God is that He is like both an immovable rock and like the magnificently malleable water in the river – the lion and lamb.
The reason bedrock is immovable is that it is connected to the underlying foundations of the earth. It is on top of this underlying foundation that all the trees, rivers, soils, and everything humans have ever built are placed. Ah this is a hidden well after all…
This foundation is very much like the logos, “the word”, the underlying reason behind the universe, that is mentioned in the beginning of the book of John as being at the root of all things. God is not only like this foundation He is this foundation!
The second part of Jesus’ word picture about the “man who built a house on the ground without a foundation”. Metaphorically speaking the “ground without a foundation” superimposed on the rock foundation of God’s logos is all the of hand prints of human history, including the cultural and religious practices that we have used to decorate the alter in our attempts to get closer to God.
There are many ways we can succumb to this error in our lives, some obvious and some not so obvious. The obvious ones are when we replace God with alternate altars of gold or stone in the form or idols or pursuits that are either in opposition to God’s will or ignorant of it. The less obvious ones are especially an issue within the church and organized religion. For some reason we are really good at encrusting God’s relatively simple message, which Jesus summarized in Mark 12:29-31:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
So what is the take home message here? I think it is that we should be very careful that we are building our faith and way of following God on the firm foundation which has been around since the beginning, God’s logos, and we should put this into practice in our lives by loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Prayer: God Help us to build our lives on the firm foundation that begins and ends with You.